As a child of the ‘80s and a teen of the ‘90s, my sexuality was shaped by the many iconic pop stars whose voices gyrated and vogued their way through the car radio. Janet Jackson and Madonna declared a sense of power over their bodies and sexuality, singing about aspects of of the erotic that completely eluded my awkward pre-teen self, who struggled to feel safe in my queerness or my body. Their voices were a feminist declaration that I played over and over on my mustard yellow walkman.
Then there was George Michael, who I will wholly hold responsible for my Daddy/little kink. He promised to be my father figure after all. George would put my little hand in his hand, until the end of time. He some how got away with singing a a song called “I Want Your Sex” on the radio and my conservative Christian mother who couldn’t bare to talk about sex with me and thought all homosexuals were sinners somehow turned a blind eye to the blatant sexuality that poured from the pop saturated tunes of my youth.
But when it came to lessons of expansive gender expression and beyond, no one did it better than Prince. Shattering perceptions of gender, sexuality, masculinity, and femininity, queerness and packaging it in a theatrical and palatable bite that changed the world. He not only rejected all previously conceived ideas of masculinity or what a man should look like, but he also surpassed the entire idea that he could be put into any box at all.
Prince was beyond definition, beyond gender, beyond a name. He full on rejected his name! Prince knew that he was so expansive that a name couldn’t hold him. Instead he presented a symbol; an act of artistry. The artist formerly known as Prince reminded us that we are not our names, that we are not our boxes, that we are energy, and spirit, and expansive beyond what we can fully comprehend.
I fell in love with how he sang, the energy of his presence, his catchy lyrics which were just an attempt at embodying some element of his genius, of his expansiveness, his queerness.
So many of Prince’s songs flow through my mind when I think of him, memories marked with his melodies. Like jumping up and down fist high in the air belting out 1999 on New Years eve at a small rave in Ohio. All of us embodying the joy and ecstasy of the moment, not knowing what exactly would happen when the clock struck midnight and we entered the 2000’s.
But the song of Prince’s that I have the greatest emotional connection to is When You Were Mine. My ex, H, loved that song. His band covered it and I heard it over and over as he practiced in our living room and bedroom. He was a singer and guitarist and we fell madly in love in the early aughts in San Francisco before his transition, when both of our genders fell somewhere in different ever orbiting aspects of dyke-dom.
We were two broken queer kittens trying to figure out what love was. I digging my way out from under the toxic trauma of family enmeshment and codependency while we both struggled with our own battle scars and fears of abandonment that resulted from both of our parents messy divorces leaving us with the subconscious whisperings – If you are loved, that someone will leave.
When H would stand up on the stage of one of the hip queer dive bars that served as a grimy sort of chrysalis for our still forming identity, he would belt out those words, screaming into the dark abyss – Oh when you were mine, I use to let you wear all my clothes.
My hands tucked into tight maroon corduroys, I swayed back and forth as the words bathed over me, cloaked in H’s zipped up black hoodie. The threads of who we were had become loose and tangled in one another. It was comforting to lose myself in someone that I loved so much.
You were so fine, maybe that’s the reason that it hurt me so, H shot me a look from the stage and I felt my heart breaking for breaking his heart. I didn’t mean to. At the time I had taken on erotic and fetish modeling to pay the bills and support the queer feminist art gallery that I ran in San Francisco. It was an expensive city and I took the opportunity to cash in on the commodity of my being an aesthetically pleasing femme who knew how to play to the camera. Although H knew about my work before we started dating, the gazes that I received in public and at work just stoked his insecurity.
The energy in the room, on that stage, in my young aching heart all built to a crescendo, to a climax, and there was no one else in the world that I wanted to be at the top of that emotional rollercoaster with. H’s voice shook my core, I know, that you’re goin’ with another guy. I don’t care, ’cause I love you baby that’s no lie. Even before we ever broke up, even before there was ever space for another guy, it was our own trauma and fears that were sleepin’ in between the two of us.
After about two years of an intense entanglement of ride or die loving, H left. It fucking broke my heart and cut deeper than I ever knew was possible. I had invested myself in the idea that I couldn’t live, couldn’t breathe without him in my life. I felt safe in his arms, surrounded by his love and if that was gone, I had nothing. This is the stuff that a compelling romance novel or dramatic movie is made of, but not a healthy relationship.
The world around us perpetuated this idea of holding onto someone tight and never letting go when you love them. But sometimes the very greatest love comes when you let someone go.
We took a year apart, which was heart wrenching, before we could come back together in the same room. He needed that time to untangle energetically, to find out who he was outside of us. It was healthy and that was a foreign concept to me. When we came back together though we were able to start to develop something new.
I took some time to slowly unravel my own toxic inheritance and discover what love without attachment looked like. It didn’t look like holding onto someone like a life raft in the rocky waters of life. Instead, it looked like a big open field and growing something beautiful together with that person. Showing up, listening, being present, putting our hands in the same earth not afraid to get messy but not compromising who we are, both growing, both witnessing, both healing.
Love is expansive beyond labels, beyond names. Love is queer as fuck, sometimes poppy and theatrical and its all around us. How lucky are we that Prince embodied all of that for us?
I love H so much. He is my best friend and is the uncle to my kids. He is chosen family and I love him, maybe even more now than when he was mine.